Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Republican Party agrees to `accept' its dissenters

INCLUSION?A statement aimed at bringing socially liberal party members back into the fold was called a footnote to a `mean-spirited' platform


In a few words meant to speak volumes, US Republicans have extended a welcome to party members who disagree with elements of their platform, a strongly conservative statement of beliefs that includes an endorsement of constitutional bans on abortion and gay marriage.

Party leaders working with platform delegates on both sides of the abortion issue settled on a declaration Wednesday night that Republicans "respect and accept" that party members can have deeply held differences.

This was a step up from merely recognizing the existence of dissenters, as the initial version of the 2004 platform stated. But in a process where every word is watched with a hawk's eye by party activists, the party hoped the change would settle divisions between social conservatives and moderates and deliver US President George W. Bush a unified national convention next week.

"We've worked very hard to be the open door and show respect for other views," said Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, platform chairman.

"It's language I'm very comfortable with," he added.

The committee adopted the compromise in a 74-18 vote, with most of the mild opposition coming from social conservatives who saw any accommodation as a dilution of core principles. On the other hand, advocates of gay and abortion rights had wanted a much stronger statement -- one that identified their issues as matters of disagreement.

Ann Stone, who leads Republicans for Choice, said the "respect and accept" solution was insufficient, but it was preferable to simply being recognized. "Three words are better than one," she said.

The committee turned to less contentious parts of the platform, intending to finish its deliberations yesterday and send the document to the convention for ratification Monday, without further debate.

Earlier, a panel made up largely of conservative delegates approved language that calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposes legal recognition of any sort for gay civil unions, including benefits for such couples. The platform committee made no changes in that plank.

Some activists sharply criticized their party for adopting a hard line in advance of a convention that will seek support from swing voters and more liberal Republicans.

"You can't craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then try to put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time," Christopher Barron of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group, said in an interview.

Giuliani, former New York mayor, and California Governor Schwarzenegger are among moderate Republicans accorded prominent convention speaking slots.

On the other side, Gary Bauer, who has campaigned for the marriage amendment and against abortion rights as president of the group American Values, said the platform solidifies the Republican Party as the "party of hearth and home."

The draft urges a constitutional ban on abortion, echoing a call from previous platforms, and endorses Bush's restrictions on federal financing of stem cell research. Some Republicans want the restrictions loosened.

The position on gay rights stands in contrast to Vice President Dick Cheney's comments making clear he opposes the marriage amendment supported by his boss.

While Cheney's remarks of a day earlier prompted no discussion in the hearings, they were the subject of heavy cellphone chatter outside the doors. Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian, said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Iowa that people should be free to have the relationships they want, and existing law may be enough to uphold traditional marriage.

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